AMERICANS GETTING SHORTER
As more and more Americans turn to a fast-food diet, its effects may be creeping up the social ladder, so that even the wealthy are growing wider rather than taller. Height, they’ve concluded, is a kind of biological shorthand: a composite code for all the factors that make up a society’s well-being. Height variations within a population are largely genetic, but height variations between populations are mostly environmental, anthropometric history suggests. If Joe is taller than Jack, it’s probably because his parents are taller. But if the average Norwegian is taller than the average Nigerian it’s because Norwegians live healthier lives. That’s why the United Nations now uses height to monitor nutrition in developing countries. In our height lies the tale of our birth and upbringing, of our social class, daily diet, and health care coverage.
The height gap between Americans and Europeans is a relatively new development. The average American soldier during World War I was still two inches taller than the average German.
The Germans and other Europeans grew an extra two centimeters a decade, or a little under an inch, and some Asian populations several times more. Yet Americans haven’t grown taller in 50 years.
But sometime around 1955, the data began to shift. In our height lies our history. the average South Korean is three inches taller than the average North Korean. There appears to be a growing gap in height between North and South Koreans, likely due to poor nutrition.
Americans have a similar height gap to worry about, and it also appears to be due to a lower standard of living, poor health care and inadequate nutrition. Americans are, quite literally, falling short of Europeans. In 1880, Americans were the tallest people in the world. By 2000, American men, at an average height of 5-feet-10.5-inches, ranked 9th, and women, at about 5-feet-5-inches, fell to 15th. Several Northern European countries rank the highest in height, with the Dutch coming in first, at just over 6 feet for the men and 5-feet-7-inches for the women.
The real answer may be that Northern European countries do a better job of spreading the wealth and taking care of their children The U.S. health care and diet are not as good as in Western Europe. Western Europeans live longer.”